The UK magazine industry releases its circulation figures today, and I’m delighted to announce that sales of The Spectator are at another all-time high. We sold an average 76,201 copies in the second half of last year, up by over 7 per cent on the first half of the year. Subscriptions are driving this growth: they’re now up 50 per cent over the last ten years – a figure that’s all the more remarkable given how bleak it has been for print media. Digital-only subscriptions are soaring – up 32 per cent in the second half of last year, compared to the first half. But not at the expense of print, where sales now stand near an all-time high, at 62,697.
Next month, I’ll be editing my 500th issue of The Spectator and its extraordinary to think how things have changed since then. Back in 2009, there was a feeling that the digital world was like a sledgehammer coming to crush newspapers and magazines alike: that print was doomed, that we had to rush to push all our journalism online, make it free and then get as many clicks as possible. That was wrong, and titles which gave up on subscriptions (and which cut costs like sub-editing) are now regretting it. The explosion of the internet means there is so much junk online that you can no longer rely on free media for decent information. If you want top-quality writing that helps you make sense of the world, then you have to pay for it. We’re seeing, now, a substantial increase of people who are willing to pay for good writing. But on one condition: it needs to be significantly and consistently better than what you can find for free.
I’m not sure that any publication has a better collection of writers than The Spectator. Rod Liddle, Charles Moore, Matthew Parris: the finest writers in Fleet Street can be found in our pages. Our books and arts pages are the best this side of the Atlantic. James Forsyth, Katy Balls, Isabel Hardman: the best-informed writers in Westminster can be found on our website. And on our podcasts, we now attract 250,000 listens a week – and about two million website visitors a month. And the point of this digital expansion is to introduce people to The Spectator. So rather than undermine print, digital has given it a new lease of life.
The picture on this blog is of Joseph Addison, the first editor of the first Spectator, which lasted from 1711 to 1713. I was speaking about him at his alma mater, Queen’s College, last week – and about the tricks from 1711 that we deploy in 2019 to make sure The Spectator is true to its founding principles. Namely: originality of thought, elegance of expression, independence of opinion. And a belief that good writing matters far beyond any political consideration.
But the key to the 1711 success of The Spectator was its audience (which had been created in the new breed of coffee houses, after which this blog is named). Without enough people to demand and appreciate the very best writing, publications would not exist. The Spectator’s success, in other words, is down to you. From all of us at 22 Old Queen St: thank you. And stay with us, because we’re just getting started.